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Stepping Up Innovator Counties: Leading the Way in Justice System Responses to People with Behavioral Health Needs

NCJ Number
Date Published
August 2021
3 pages

This report profiles the federal Stepping Up Initiative, whose goal is to provide county leaders with the resources and tools needed to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses and substance-use disorders in local justice systems.


The Stepping Up Initiative prepares counties to take actions that will develop and implement collaborative systems that will effectively improve outcomes for people with health-related behavioral problems who become involved in the justice system. Among the 540 counties that have joined the Stepping Up Initiative, innovators have emerged to lead the nation in effectively collecting and applying baseline data to inform decisions and implement identified programming needs. Stepping Up recognizes a county as an innovator when it has demonstrated the capacity to accurately identify people in their jails who have mental illnesses and substance-use disorders, collect and share data on these individual needs to connect them to treatment services, and use that data to inform local policies and practices. Those counties that qualify as innovators advise and support the Stepping Up Initiative, providing guest speakers for virtual events, contributing expertise to Stepping Up publications, providing peer-to-peer connections, and mentoring counties that request assistance. Equipped with accurate and accessible data on the prevalence of mental illness and substance-use disorders in their local jails, Stepping Up Innovator counties can match people to appropriate services and supports that address their needs and reduce their likelihood of reoffending. Types of innovator county activities are described under the following activities: early interventions, co-responder models, crisis and diversion centers, and the identification and serving of high-needs populations. The programs of innovator counties under these topics are briefly described.

Date Published: August 1, 2021